While one side of the Eastern Conference semifinals is set, there’s work left to be done on the other end which includes the Atlanta Hawks. The Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks will square off in the conference semifinals while the Sixers – Wizards and Hawks – Knicks series’ continue on for now.
Both the Hawks and Sixers lead their best-of-seven matchups 3-1 and both will have an opportunity to close out on Wednesday night. While Atlanta still has work left to attend to with New York, they may have just caught a huge break.
The Wizards are alive via a Game 4 win that saw Joel Embiid exit and not return for Philly. Earlier on Wednesday, the Sixers announced Embiid suffered a small, lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. The Philly all-star has already been announced as out for Game 5 and the team listed him as “day-to-day.” Many have already speculated the day-to-day diagnosis might be a bit optimistic and that Embiid will miss some time.
While this is incredibly deflating for the NBA and for the Sixers, it could end up being a massive break for Atlanta.
If the Hawks are able to win one of the next three against the Knicks, they will advance to take on the winner of Philadelphia and Washington. The Sixers are in the same boat as the Hawks, needing just one win over the Wizards in the next three.
Atlanta is getting healthy at the right time and they have a lineup that is feasting against New York so far. Trae Young’s ability on the pick-and-roll to finish in the paint and also distribute has put Tom Thibodeau’s defense on the brink of elimination.
With Embiid possibly being out, the Hawks would set up super well with the Sixers in round two especially with the offensive rebounding that Clint Capela brings to the table. In 63 games played this year during the regular season, Capela led the NBA averaging 4.7 offensive rebounds per contest. If Embiid misses significant time, it could set up to be a perfect spot for a Hawks team playing with a ton of confidence.
Of course, all of this assumes that both the Hawks and Sixers are able to close out and win one of the next three in their respective series’. For Philly, it certainly won’t be easy without Embiid. For Atlanta, New York has played its best basketball when they have been severely doubted all year long.
These injuries that we’ve seen to players like Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis flat out stink and take a lot of the energy out of the NBA playoffs. The Sixers still have plenty of overall depth and pieces in place but their title dreams now sit to the side for the time being as they wait to see if and when Embiid will be able to return. If he can’t, it gives the Hawks a perfect opportunity to further legitimize their path in the Eastern Conference, pending that both teams take care of their business the rest of the way in round one.